Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rant #595: Ed, We Miss You

"Mike and Molly" notwithstanding, television wasn't always polluted by trash of this ilk.

Take "The Ed Sullivan Show." Originally called "Toast of the Town," the weekly variety hour showcased every type of act imaginable, from ventriloquists to jugglers to Broadway performers to the latest hit pop acts to Topo Gigio.

It was a three-ring circus every Sunday night at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., and it was hosted by the dullest person on the planet, Daily News newspaper columnist Ed Sullivan.

And that was the charm of the show.

Sullivan knew he wasn't the star, even though his name eventually became even bigger than the show itself.

He was the booker, a presenter, and he basically let the acts do the talking.

Sullivan died 37 years ago today at the age of 73.

I don't think that people who weren't around during the show's heyday can fully comprehend the enormity, or the importance, of this program on the American scene.

The show was even larger than a TV show--it was a weekly event that had to be seen, whether you were watching Elvis Presley from the waste up or the Beatles top to bottom.

The show made news by having on those two bombastic acts.

But it also featured the likes of Roberta Peters, Soupy Sales, Stiller and Meara and George Carlin.

And don't forget Senor Wences.

Whatever was hot in show biz was on the show, whether it was the 5th Dimension, the Supremes or Joan Rivers.

He had it all, and it was clean, wholesome entertainment that the whole family could enjoy together.

If you didn't like an act, it was time to get up and go to the bathroom or get something to eat.

But if you did like the act, well, your anticipation for watching that segment, rarely lasting more than three or four minutes tops, lasted an entire week between shows.

When the Beatles first came on the show in February 1964, I was hooked, and so was an entire generation of kids.

I don't think Sulllivan understood rock and roll at all, but he understood the numbers, the ratings numbers, that is.

He knew that he had to have the hottest acts on the planet on his show, and if the Dave Clark Five had hit songs, well, they had to be on the show.

And they were. And most of these acts considered it a privilege to be on the show.

Sure, Sullivan wasn't perfect.

He banned Jackie Mason for supposedly giving the finger to him on the air, and he had feuds over song lyrics with the Rolling Stones and the Doors.

He could be very abrasive, and when he didn't like you, he would let you know it.

But he broke many major acts, and not just rock acts.

He gave the stage to up and coming comics like Carlin, Rivers, Robert Klein and Richard Pryor.

He furthered the careers of comics like Myron Cohen and Alan King, and made national celebrities of Stiller and Meara.

He loved Diana Ross and Petula Clark, and he loved Broadway, everything from "Oliver" to "The King and I."

And don't forget the Muppets.

Sullivan was bland, but he knew talent, and he booked the best talent on the show.

Sure, plate twirlers aren't the most talented people in the world, but he knew that the audience loved them, so he had them on during the 23-year run of the show pretty regularly.

My mom attended one or two shows in the audience, and tickets were as hard to get for those shows as they are now for the Super Bowl.

After the show ended in 1971, Sullivan lamented that CBS didn't give the program two more years so he could bow out gracefully after a 25-year run.

But times had changed by then.

People were losing patience with things that they didn't want to see.

And the TV remote was starting to become more commonplace, and people were changing the channel in the middle of his show to look elsewhere for something they were interested in.

"The Ed Sullivan Show" was a relic of TV's past, and even in 1971, the wear was showing.

So the show ended without that much fanfare, and its host died about three years later.

Bits and pieces of the show are available on DVD, as well as a number of full shows starring the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Elvis Presley.

During money-thons, PBS often runs Ed Sullivan retrospectives.

But I simply don't think that the kids today understand the importance of the show and its host.

When the kids' parents were kids, this show was golden. It had it all.

Sorry, the creators of "Mike and Molly" and shows like it can do much, much better.

And the very coincidence that "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "Mike and Molly" are products of the same network--CBS--kind of shivers my timbers.

This is what the so-called "Tiffany Network" calls entertainment today?

Sullivan, the bland host of a televised three-ring circus which lasted 23 years, proved that you can take coal and make diamonds out of it.

May he continue to rest in peace, and yes, I am sure he is turning in his grave at the trash that is around today, stuff that he might have to showcase on his program if he, and the show, were around today.

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